I’m Chinese, admittedly a western-raised one. I’m clueless to the story of The Peony Pavillion. I wonder if I ever caught the story as a child, maybe in one of the countless Hong Kong production films that I watched. I do remember plenty of ghost stories, there’s a fascination in ghosts and spirits, I might have seen an interpretation of this?
Anyway, it’s one of the most famous tales in China, their equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. To sum it up – here’s an extract from The Guardian (by Judith Mackrell):
Its story is based on China’s equivalent of Romeo and Juliet: a 16th-century story of passion pitted against impossible odds. In contrast to Shakespeare’s red-blooded narrative, however, Peony Pavilion is told through a rarefied language of colours, symbols and visions. The ballet’s heroine, Liniang, falls in love only in a dream, and the tumultuous effect this has on her life is expressed through a sequence of ravishing but highly ritualised vignettes. The anguish of desire she feels on awakening is externalised through the presence of her two alter egos: the scarlet Flower Goddess and the cool, gliding opera singer Kunqu Liniang, whose words argue for reason. Ripples of Liniang’s anguish continue, beautifully, to eddy through the ensemble that follows, a chorus of white-clad maidens whose delicate tendrils of dance seem shaken by gusts with desire. More beautiful stage pictures follow as Liniang dies for love and is whirled through tumbling snowflakes to a black underworld.
Yet while the emotions of the characters remain very codified and reserved, the poetics of the staging act in combination with the dancers’ exquisitely nuanced style to draw us into a curiously moving world. The singular power of Peony Pavilion, and its exotic remove from western story ballets, is clinched in the last scene. Liniang is finally delivered into the arms of her lover, but not into a routine fairytale wedding. Rather, the mortal and spirit worlds join together in a wild, wheeling circle dance – a cosmic union that celebrates the marriage of the entire universe.
Well, I was there for the ballet, with the exception of watching the students from Northern Ballet School at The Dancehouse, I have not seen any other ballet production, let alone something as prestigious as the National Ballet of China. It was inevitable that I find myself in the audience of a ballet piece, I’ve been keen to learn more about the dance.
I was completely mesmerised by the dancers, they looked beautiful but so fragile and frail. They’re anything but, I wasn’t blown away by the set, I was captivated by the ballerinas and their immense strength. All the things I picked up from Ailsa, I watched for them. Their arm movements, their toe points, the posture and core strength – it was pure joy to see professional ballet dancers. They were so graceful and the lead Cao Shuci was so expressive, she was seared on my mind all evening – it made me think about performance on stage, how important it is to express and be the character you are.
My eyes were glued to their feet, their petit battement (peteet-bat-mont?) was to behold – mind you, I was watching with virgin eyes, ballet is still a new world to me. Their techniques, as should be, were wonderful, I observed the way they stretched, balanced and leaped, how they moved on the floor, and the lines of their arm positions. There was so much going on, luckily we were in row C, that’s one seat from the stage. On the positive side, I saw plenty of details in their movements – the downside was I didn’t experience the overall stage that much. It was fine, a small sacrifice to be able to see them up close. Towards the end of Act 2, I did notice tired legs (or was it?), they shook a little while balancing – only fractionally, noticeable close and probably not from the Circle seating above. It was barely visible, they’re professionals, what did I expect?
I had a taste of ballet and I definitely want more, I found myself watching their feet and techniques more than the story itself. That’s because I’m learning ballet, I wanted information, I wanted to see how they danced.
I’m so glad to have seen this.
I adore it and want to see more!